Longing

I long for something,

Without knowing what.

I long for somewhere,

without knowing where.

 

I long for change,

For that next adventure…

I’m restless and bored,

Ready to start somewhere new.

 

And yet I long to settle,

To put down roots.

To call some place home

And know it’s my own.

 

But where is that illusive home?

That place where I belong,

Where I am neither other

Nor outsider?

 

I am homesick,

But I don’t know for where…

For which country, which place,

Which home?

 

My heart aches,

Without knowing for what.

It longs for something

That I cannot define.

 

Such is the path

Of my third culture kid journey:

Sometimes confusing, often contradictory…

And forever longing.

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Living In Between

In between worlds,

In between cultures,

In between languages,

In between moves,

In between homes.

Living in between.

 

Never fully belonging,

Just used to blending…

Like a chameleon.

Never one of them,

Always the ‘other’.

Living in between.

 

We are many things abroad:

Immigrant, expat, foreigner.

And many things at home:

Hidden immigrant, repat, foreigner.

How do you reconcile

Living in between?

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Musical Memories

I’ve always been amazed by the power music has to affect my mood and by how evocative a single song can be. Music can uplift me and cheer me up, or move me to tears, but it always does good and reaches deeply into my soul. Music and certain songs can also be tied so closely to specific memories that just a few notes can conjure up such clear images and sometimes very strong emotions too. For TCKs, there’s the added factor that certain songs remind us of one of the countries we lived in – it’s one of the ways we remember when songs (or movies) came out, because we date them from where we were living at the time.

Although I love many musical styles, groups, singers and composers, in a variety of languages, there are certain songs/groups that hold stronger memories. It doesn’t mean they are my favorites or hold a particularly special place in my heart, it’s just that somehow they have a very clear memory or location/event attached to them. Regardless of whether they’re my favorite or not, they almost always make me smile when I hear them. And I will never cease to be amazed at the clarity of images and memories they trigger.

I have written about musical memories before – listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival or Kenny Rogers during our road trips in Mexico – but there are so many more songs and groups that transport me around the world with just a few notes.

What led me to write this today was hearing a song on the radio that will always be linked to one exact moment/event: Killing Me Softly by The Fugees. That song came out in 1996 and since it was a huge hit it played over and over on MTV. I know that because we were in a hotel at the end of summer vacation, which meant we had cable and a lot of free time. I was 11 years old and we had just moved from Mexico City to Manila (Philippines). Killing Me Softly will forever be linked to that hotel room, to room service in front of a movie on HBO, to playing barbies with my sister, to that mix of anticipation and trepidation of being in a new place… I can see the hotel room so clearly in my mind, as if I had been there recently, and not 18 years ago.

The Philippines is also inextricably linked to Third Eye Blind. Their first CD was such a hit and we loved it. Even though I haven’t listened to it in a long time, I’m pretty sure I could still sing along to all their lyrics. Third Eye Blind is synonymous with walks around our “villages” (enclosed residential compounds) with my best friend at the time, discman carried between us as we shared headphones and talked about our latest crushes and gossip. Third Eye Blind (and OK, Backstreet Boys too) was also the background music while thinking about said crushes and doing homework.

A few weeks ago I heard All My Life by K-Ci and JoJo, which had also come out when we were in the Philippines… I could sing along to nearly every word and I could picture my bedroom in the Philippines more clearly than I had in years. The power a few simple notes can yield is astounding.

Interestingly, it’s only been while writing this that I realize how many musical memories are linked to the Philippines… I think that’s because I had my own room for the first time, my own radio/CD player, and I was in middle school. I was just discovering my own tastes, my own freedoms and beginning to understand the comfort/power of music.

There are definitely songs that remind me of the other countries I’ve lived in though. Blue by Eiffel 65 will forever remind me of Sydney, of hanging out with friends at the beach and parties at each other’s houses. It’s forever linked to sunshine, laughter, teenage angst and carefree days. It conjures up images of our house in the Sydney suburbs, under clear blue skies.

Then there were the other hit pop songs of the time, when we were introduced to Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, with Genie in a Bottle and Hit Me Baby One More Time. Eagle Eye Cherry’s song Save Tonight was very popular when we lived in Australia to… All these songs remind me of putting the radio on in the living room, with family and friends, chatting, laughing and even dancing around.

Certain Australian bands will always take me back there as well – Taxiride and Crowded House. And the Backstreet Boys Millennium CD will always be linked to Australia, to sleepovers with best friends and conversations about boys and gossip. We were teenage girls, what could you expect?

In more recent years I have songs that remind me of the summer we moved to the U.S. 4 years ago, or Smile by Uncle Kracker, which was our wedding song… That always brings a huge smile to my face (pun not intended) and fills me with happiness and warmth when I think of that beautiful, love-filled weekend in Provence.

I’m sure there are many more memories and songs I could bring up from the different countries I’ve lived in, but I’ll leave you with those for now. These memories all make me smile and remind me just how lucky I am to have led such a life and have such incredible experiences.

Music is a means of comfort, of communication, of escape and relaxation… but it is also a means of remembering.

What sounds or songs trigger special memories for you? 

Please feel free to share in the comments – I would love to hear your stories!

Six Letters of Identity

I never would have thought that six letters could be the cause of such confusion and complications.

Six letters.

D-O-U-N-I-A

Six letters that make no sense in most of the world and whose pronunciation apparently has endless possibilities. Six letters that formed my identity in more ways than one since my parents bestowed them upon me.


Growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK), identity becomes a complex issue. It’s tough to define your identity when you’ve grown up in different countries and have assimilated many cultures. I usually present myself as Lebanese-American, but that statement is only partly true. I am 100% Lebanese by blood and heritage (but have never lived there), American by passport and I grew up all over the world, in six countries spread over four continents.

The only constants in my life and identity were my family and my name. A name that I loved but at times grew weary of, having to spell it and explain it all the time. Enduring mispronunciations, mockery and confusion, no matter where we were in the world. Sometimes I longed for a simpler, more common name, ruing my parents for giving me such a difficult name. I resented it even more because my older sister had a far easier name to spell and pronounce.

Although we generally attended international schools, it was still a name that stood out and that most people had never heard before. Even within the more tolerant and worldly community at those schools I heard jokes about my name, my background and certain physical traits from my cultural heritage. Interestingly enough, it was when attending a non-international school that I started to develop a stronger sense of self and didn’t feel the need to shy away from my background. I had always loved my name and where I was from, but I began to accept my name and my identity with a newfound confidence.

As I grew older, the way I viewed my name changed. I would still get frustrated at having to teach people how to pronounce it and it was never fun being the new kid with such a unique name… But the older I got, the more I embraced my name. I was always the only Dounia. People might have had trouble saying it or spelling it, but they usually remembered my name and me. My name, like my heritage, became a source of pride as I became old enough to piece together the different parts of my identity.

I’ve heard my name pronounced so many different ways and I’ve heard it with the lilt of many accents. I’ve been given countless nicknames – some that I love and others not so much. But my name is mine and I love it.


29 years later and I would never change those six letters. I am grateful that my parents gave me a name that stands out and that is part of my cultural heritage. And unknowingly, they also prepared me well for my TCK identity: in Arabic, Dounia means world. My name, my heritage, my background, my TCK experience, all wrapped up in six little letters.

D-O-U-N-I-A

Six letters that say it all.


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Patience is a Virtue

Transitions are never easy, no matter your age or where you are. Times of change and going into the unknown will always be simultaneously scary and exciting. As third culture kids we have more experience with change and so we may understand the challenges better, but it doesn’t mean we have it all figured out. Sure, we have more practice with adapting and we know it gets better, but even we feel lost, lonely and confused. Even we question ourselves and doubt our capabilities when we’re thrown into a completely new environment. And surprisingly, we question ourselves even more when we are in a supposedly familiar place, and still struggle to adapt. We pride ourselves on being resilient and being able to settle in anywhere, so when we have a hard time doing that we doubt ourselves. We get frustrated and feel something must be wrong with us for not figuring it out.

This is something I’ve experienced during these past years since I’ve returned to my passport country. I wondered why it was taking me so long to adapt here and why, even years later, I was still struggling. I couldn’t understand and I was frustrated, questioning how I could call myself resilient when I couldn’t even settle here properly. I’ve written recently about my struggle to adapt, sharing my realization of something crucial: I was being so hard on myself because I kept viewing it as a re-entry, when really it was a new entry. This experience also helped me learn a very valuable lesson that applies no matter where you are or what you are going through: be patient and kind with yourself. I have read this before and my mom recently said it to me, but I had never truly understood its meaning or importance until these last few years. It is one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned, but also one of the toughest. You only learn it the hard way and it’s very difficult to stick by. It’s so much easier to doubt and question yourself, to get frustrated and feel inadequate… It’s so much easier to do that than to say, “Hey, this is tough and I’m doing the best I can. I just need time and I’ll figure it out.”

We can be so patient and understanding with others, yet we refuse ourselves that same kindness. We forget that what we are doing is no easy feat and that years of experience doesn’t mean we have everything figured out from day one. We (or at least I) also seem to forget that the challenges we faced as third culture kids are not exactly the same as adult third culture kids.

I’ve written this from my point of view as an adult third culture kid, but I believe this is a lesson that applies to everyone. The words ‘you are your own worst enemy’ or ‘you are your harshest critic’ ring so true for many us. But we should learn to not be so hard on ourselves and not be so quick to doubt what we’re capable of. Whatever transitions you may be going through, wherever you are in the world, however old you are… Remember to be patient and to be kind – not just with others, but with yourself too.

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Who I Am

I am a third culture kid.

Of that I will never be rid.

 

I’ve grown up among worlds,

Like many other boys and girls.

 

I am made up of one travelling heart,

Which is often spread worlds apart.

 

I am internationally grown,

But I have a hard time defining home.

 

I am made up of many places,

Like a dice of six faces.

 

The places I’ve lived and loved,

And those that run through my blood;

 

Each of them is a part of me,

Part of my story and my journey.

 

Much of it is yet to be told,

But to one thing I will always hold:

 

I’m an adult third culture kid,

Of that I never wish to be rid.

The Hidden Story

I started this blog to share my experiences growing up as a third culture kid and trying to navigate life as an adult third culture kid. Lately I had started wondering if I was still doing that or if my blog had moved away from its initial purpose and goal. I thought about all that and more for quite some time, not sure where to go from there…

My blog does have a whole mix of things: posts specifically on being a TCK/ATCK, photography, poetry, posts of simple observations and memories… It does not follow a simple straight line – it twists and turns, sometimes ending up in an unexpected place. Growing up as a TCK, I quickly learned that life does not follow an easy linear path. There will always be unexpected curves and surprises. I am learning that life as an adult third culture kid has just as many (if not more) challenges and hidden turns. That is what this blog has always been about, even when I didn’t fully realize it.

The blog posts that are not specifically about growing up as a TCK or adapting as an ATCK may seem out of place, but actually they are a very important part of my journey. They are how I see my current world and how I feel about this particular home. I realized that the posts I initially thought were deviations from my original purpose were, in fact, simply part of the story. They were just telling a different side of it.

To Enter or to Reenter: That is the Question

Recently I read a couple of blog posts written by an adult third culture kid about expats and reentry, and TCKs and entry. I thought the differentiation she made was very telling and made perfect sense to me. When you consider reentry, it means returning somewhere you’ve already been and that you can consider as home. For an expat who left his/her home country for a ‘mission’ elsewhere, coming back to their home base is indeed reentry. For a third culture kid however, moving to their passport country is not necessarily a reentry. They may have never lived in their passport country or only lived there as a child, or perhaps don’t return to the exact same location in that country. Some aspects of settling back in may be the same for reentry and entry, but the TCK often goes through more struggles to adapt.

Ever since I moved back to my passport country as an adult I’ve been struggling with the notion of entry versus reentry. When you’re living in a foreign country, people know you’re not from there so it’s acceptable to be confused, to grieve, to be lost, not know local customs etc… When we return to our passport country we can suddenly find ourselves feeling like ‘hidden immigrants’. We sound like others here, we’re technically “from” here, but really we’re not. But how do you explain that to non-TCKs? It doesn’t make any sense to most of them. How can we feel and act like foreigners in our “home” country? It sometimes feels like we have to hide our confusion, our grief and our disorientation. We might even feel like something is wrong with us for having such a hard time adapting when we’ve had to adjust to far more difficult situations. As third culture kids, we pride ourselves on our resilience and adaptability, but suddenly we’re struggling to find our way. That can be because we view this move like others might see it – as a reentry – when really it’s another new entry. If we consider it a reentry, then it’s no wonder we question why it seems so much tougher than other moves we’ve done.

Little by little I’ve been figuring out the difference between entry vs. reentry and understanding why it’s taking me so long to adapt here. Even now, 3 years later there are still days when I feel as lost as when we first arrived. Those blog posts I mentioned have helped me realize that there is nothing wrong with that and I am not alone in my struggle. These years of reentry have made me grow the most as an adult third culture kid. I’ve experienced a very different kind of move and adaptation from what I was used to. Some parts were easier than other moves – no new language to learn, no first day at school…But many things are much harder because I am “supposed” to know them and it is assumed that I do. We’re not afforded the luxury of patience and understanding that foreigners would receive. Sometimes it can be very difficult to navigate this complicated situation and find common ground with people here. Communicating with others here has definitely been a learning process and I’m still figuring it out, 3 years later.

Despite these struggles, however, there have been many good moments and there is a lot that I love here. Growing up all over the world taught me many things, but one of the most important lessons I learned is to enjoy every moment and make the best of every situation. And that’s what I’m doing. Although not every day is easy, not every day is a struggle either. And every year has been better than the one before. Every year I find new strength and new joys, which teach me more about myself. This past year I have felt the most at peace with myself since moving here, and the most in tune to what makes me happy here. That in itself tells me I’m on the right track to figuring out my entry.

New Kid On The Block

I opened my eyes and looked around the unfamiliar room. The walls were bare and for a moment I wondered where I was. Then with a jolt I remembered, and I could feel the knots in my stomach. I knew this day would come again, but I was never really ready for it. Today I was the new kid. Again.

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Growing up a third culture kid (TCK) meant that being the new kid at school was just part of our lives. I attended 5 different schools all over the world; sometimes there were a lot of other new kids and other times there weren’t. Regardless of how many there were, it was always a difficult experience and a time when TCKs can feel very lonely. September came to be synonymous with these struggles as that was usually when we started at a new school and when the real challenges began. June was usually the sad month of goodbyes and September was the scary month of new beginnings. It is often a month of turmoil for kids moving somewhere new – settling into an unfamiliar house, finding their way in a foreign city, and most daunting, starting at a new school.

Growing up as a TCK, I was the new kid many times, and I know how difficult that is. So whenever I saw new kids, I would always go and ask them if I could help out. I would look out for them and if I ever saw one who looked lost or lonely, I would go introduce myself and offer to help them find their way, or just simply talk to them. Often the smallest gesture makes the biggest difference, especially when you’re feeling lost or alone.

Throughout my years as a TCK, I realized how much those little gestures of kindness and comfort make such a big difference, especially during transition periods. The countless teachers and students who reached out a helping hand when we felt lost and alone slowly made that new place feel more like home. And the way my parents were always supportive and reassuring, while making sure we were involved helped us cope with all the changes in our lives. With time, I also realized just how resilient and adaptable us TCKs really are. I’m not going to pretend that moving was (or is) easy and that there aren’t moments of sadness. But the truth is that, before you know it, you’ll know your way around school, you’ll be giving directions to tourists, and you’ll be calling that strange, foreign place home.

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I opened my eyes and looked around my room with a smile. I knew that the dreaded conversation of leaving would happen again someday and that my heart would once again feel as if it were breaking into a million pieces. But I also knew that for now, I was home.

For now, I was no longer the new kid.

Washington D.C. – Wanderings and Wonderings

In my years as a TCK I have been to several capital cities around the world, but until very recently I had never been to the capital city of my passport country: Washington, D.C. I had wanted to visit D.C. for a long time and now living on the East coast, I knew my chance would come. It finally did, and it was well worth the wait. Being in D.C. was incredible and wonderful for so many reasons. The vibrancy of the city was invigorating and I fell in love. Oh, I fell in love with many different places and sights for all sorts of reasons. I quickly realized that D.C. managed to touch upon many different facets of me: the TCK side of me, my connection to France, my love of history… But what truly caught me off-guard was the connection I felt to the American side of me. I was excited to visit this city, to walk its streets and see the history it holds, but I didn’t expect to feel so strongly or to be moved so deeply. I was surprised by the strength of the emotions I felt, and by what I learned about myself. It was an unexpectedly beautiful lesson.

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Hearing various languages, seeing flags of many nations and simply being in a more multi-cultural environment tickled my TCK senses. That both delighted and comforted me. D.C. also appealed to my love of France with the French influence in the architecture and city structure. The wide avenues lined with trees, the green spaces scattered throughout the city, the height and architecture of the buildings, and even how the buildings and monuments are lit up at night… All that reminded me of France and more specifically Paris, which will always hold a small piece of my heart.

And then there was the historical aspect of D.C. As a history major I was spoiled in Europe, but much less so in Connecticut, so D.C. was a treat for this history-loving girl. There are many historical sights to see in D.C., but the one on the top of my list was the Declaration of Independence. I was waiting for that visit like a little kid waits for Christmas morning! And it did not disappoint. It was truly amazing to see. The dimly lit, domed room really adds to the whole atmosphere and aura, making for a beautiful viewing area. I would love a chance to calmly look at the documents with less people around, but it was still incredible to see. I always find myself awestruck when I get to see important historic documents like that. I don’t actually have the words to explain what I feel when I look at those beautifully crafted, fading words on such delicate scrolls of paper. It’s a less obvious and visible mark of history than a long-standing cathedral or ruins of ancient civilizations, but to me it’s so much more powerful.

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Sadly, history also has many dark moments, but D.C. makes sure to remember those who have fallen fighting for their country. All of the war memorials are beautifully crafted, but the two I found the most poignant were the Vietnam and Korean War memorials. The Vietnam memorial is very powerful in its simplicity – just those slabs of black marble with names etched in. Name after name after name…The sheer quantity is overwhelming. The waste of so many lives really hits home and grips at your heart when you see that. I felt that the Korean War memorial made that feeling even stronger. The names on the Vietnam memorial reminds you of how many died, the Korean memorial reminds you yet again of how young so many of them were. The youthful faces of the statues and those etched in the black marble serve as a seemingly empty reminder of the futility and devastation of war.

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Those memorials really struck a chord in my head and in my heart. They made me question humanity and why we always seem to find new ways to wreak havoc and pain. The sight of all those names, the etched faces of those young boys lost to the folly of war, the beliefs they fought for…I always wonder: how many more names and faces need to be etched on walls before we come to our senses? I felt more sadness and anger than I expected, but I also wondered if I could believe in something (a cause, a country…) so strongly that I would go to war to defend it. I couldn’t place if that was just my character or the TCK side-effect of having called many places home, but not really being from any of them. Even if I don’t figure out the answer, it still serves as food for thought…

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While the memorials left me with lingering thoughts and questions, Arlington Cemetery gave me a feeling of profound serenity. It’s overwhelming and awe-inspiring how vast the cemetery is and just how many graves there are, but it’s such a peaceful place. I was moved by the quiet beauty of those rolling, green hills, dotted with white tombstones. Being there in the spring only accentuated how lovely a final resting place it is. Trees were in full bloom, covered in young leaves of spring green and all shades of pink; daffodils dotted the green hills; blue jays and robins flitted from tree to tree. It was breathtakingly beautiful and so peaceful. I could have stayed there for hours – writing, reading, photographing or just simply being.

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It reminded me of the American cemetery in Normandy, France, but on a much bigger (and hilly) scale. Instead of views of the wide beaches and the Atlantic Ocean, there were views of D.C. and airplanes flying overhead. Both of these cemeteries moved me deeply and they both left beautiful images in my mind. I felt so serene and at peace in each of them. If time had allowed, I would have stayed much longer, but alas, that shall be for next time…

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My time in D.C. fed my mind and my heart. It allowed me to get in touch with all the different parts of me and to do so many things I love. Perhaps most importantly, being in D.C. reminded me of what it means to be a third culture kid, how we’re formed by the life we’ve led and that every part of me is important. As a TCK you’re an amalgam of cultures, traditions and nations, which is sometimes confusing, but always amazing. Sometimes we’ll identify more with one side of us, at times we even reject certain parts, but we know we can’t deny their existence or their importance. Every place you’ve lived in, every language you’ve spoken, every passport you’ve held plays a role in making you who you are. We may have thought that growing up as a third culture kid was tough, but that’s actually the easy part. The real difficulty lies in being an adult third culture kid and navigating the non-TCK environment. It lies in figuring out your identity when you’re no longer surrounded by others like you.

And I’m learning to do that little by little, day by day.

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